There is a growing agreement that economic development and achievement of millennium goals requires empowering women and girls while protecting against the violations of their rights. During its 58th session last month, the UN affiliated Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) renewed its commitment to address all forms of discrimination of women and to strive for gender equality, rights to education, employment, involvement in all levels of decision making, access to healthcare and other basic needs including adequate nutrition, safe drinking water, sanitation and housing.
In the same effort, the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka restated the urgent needs to take steps to address these burdens throughout the world. Women and girls living in developing countries, particularly in Sub Saharan Africa, represent the large percentage and suffer blatant human rights violations daily. While in developed countries, women fight to reduce the gender wage gap and improve equal access to healthcare, many of those living in developing countries are struggling and suffering due to a lack of policies and legal authorities to protect them. Some of them are genitally mutilated, beaten, stoned, raped or coerced to have sex by intimate partner, and other are forced to early marriage and denied their basic rights as basic as voting, seeking health care or attending school.
It is encouraging that many African countries are moving toward eliminating or at least reducing violence against women. Examples include implementing country wide action plans to prevent violence against women and girls in Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe; improving the tracking of violence towards women or expansion of child girls protection centers in Swaziland and Kenya, and enacting laws against female genital mutilation in Senegal.
Sadly, it is hard to say the same for some countries such as Mali where, due to the recent turmoil and the refusal of the government to legislate the new family law, women’s rights are still largely disregarded. Domestic violence, excision and forced marriage are largely perpetrated in Mali and the new law would reinforce women’s rights and provide them protection and safety, in particular legal support to turn to when needed. We also need to stop blaming the victims of acts of gender based violence whether physical or emotional. It is time to change these social norms that are preventing women and girls from seeking legal recourse to address injustices committed against them.
The current political situation of the country is not helping: Women represent less than 10 percent of the newly elected national assembly and patriarchal society that creates those barriers for maintaining women rights in which we live reflect some of the difficulties faced by activists and organizations working to protect women and girls’ rights in Africa.
The best way to empower women and girls is to protect their rights and give them the tools and skills required to achieve gender equality: education. Education of girls and women is one of the first steps to attaining these goals. Society must give them the opportunity to attend and remain in school for better social and economic outcomes that will benefit both men and women.
For more on CSW visit: http://www.unwomen.org/